How I Doubled My Productivity Overnight

By Daniel Scocco

It would be hard to find a person who has never heard about a to-do list, right? Yet I bet that many of you do not use it, or do not use it effectively.

I was on the same boat until some months ago. I knew that every day I was supposed to list the tasks that needed to be done, but most of the time I would just list those tasks mentally and get on with the work. Needless to say that by lunch I would have already forgotten what I was supposed to do….

I also tried to use digital solutions, including a desktop application that manages my to-do list and the “Tasks” feature inside Gmail. They worked for a couple of days, but that was it.

to-do-list

Then one day I thought to myself: “Let’s get old school and start doing a to-do list with pen and paper.” And suddenly and I was getting more things done than ever before.

These days I can’t work unless I have my notebook and a pen on my desk. Here is how I structure the process:

  1. At the end of every working day I will sit down and list the tasks that need to be performed on the next day.
  2. I list them in descending order of importance (so priorities go on top).
  3. I also list stuff that I am NOT supposed to do (e.g., check my email more than twice a day or visit YouTube).
  4. As I move along the day I just cross the completed tasks and move on to the next ones.
  5. If I fail to complete a certain task I move it to next day’s list, on top.

This is probably the best single thing I have done to improve my productivity. If you are not doing it, give it a shot.




Share

55 Responses to “How I Doubled My Productivity Overnight”

  • Steve

    I rely pretty heavily on lists, certainly at work, be it pen and paper, or post-it notes stuck somewhere I can’t miss them. While I wouldn’t say they make me super-productive, they do help me to prioritise and I’d probably be lost without a to-do list to hand.

    I think there’s something about physically writing tasks down that helps me remember what I have to do, and helps me start to prioritise a little better.

    I could probably do with writing more lists outside of work, as it would hopefully limit the amount of stuff swimming around my head, and amount of stuff forgotten!

  • Sebastian

    Haha, alright, you caught me, I’m back to work.

  • Sarge

    I think you’re onto something with pen and paper. I was a bit GTD (Getting things done) nut back in the day and tried countless programs that I thought would organise and help automate my to-do list but at the end of the day pen and paper always works best.

    At the moment I use Todo on my iPhone (which syncs nicely with toodledo.com) and this has been working pretty well for me, it’s a simple yet powerful piece of software. I use this to tell myself the sorts of tasks I should be doing in the next few days like writing blog posts. I then resort to pen and paper to write down specifically what I want to get done based on those ‘sorts of tasks’.

    So I guess I’m a mixture of both program and pen and paper at the moment. Pen and paper will always be there. Love putting pen to paper 😉

  • Chris

    I actually wrote a post about this awhile back. Some time ago, I used to do the same thing and just try to do everything in my head. It made things very sporadic and when I didn’t remember something I needed to do I found myself checking my email or something wasteful again.

    I now have a daily planner that I fill in with my daily routine and whatever other things I’m doing. It does make a big difference to write it down though, no matter what form it is (I tried programs as well and found them to be less effective then I’d hoped).

    I also have a small notebook that I write ideas down in. Great for on the go.

  • Camillo Miller

    Yep, Daniel, you nailed it!
    I tried a lot of task managing software both on my computer and on my iPhone (just to see if a separate portable device would be better).
    Guess what? Nothing beats the old paper and pen. I made this solution portable too by using a Moleskine “detective” notebook as my “paper”, so it’s always with me if I find articles to write and other things to do while I’m not in front of my desk.
    For me the real deal it’s the sensation of full accomplishment of a task given by the act of deleting the task with the pen. No check sign on a software will ever be comparable to it!

  • Sarah Turner

    I agree. I prepare a list for the following day’s jobs every night; that way you don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat having just remembered something!

    I agree with Steve. There’s something about physically writing a task down that makes you connect with it in some way. And of course it’s always great to cross it through with a flourish!

  • LetUpdate

    It seems worthy to try for more effective life.

  • Theresa

    Yes, I’m a firm believer in writing things down with pen and paper. The act of physically doing it helps you to sort things out in your head and more easily prioritize.

    And eat frogs …

    Also, I have some stick-it notes I put on my monitor on which I draw an outline of a frog with a task inside. These are the tasks I don’t want to do really (but should). I make myself “eat” a frog each morning before getting onto more enjoyable stuff. Has made a huge difference in my productivity.

    Great post.

  • George Serradinho

    It’s funny that you went back to the old fashion paper and pen. I do that now and then, but as I got my blackberry, I just note all my details in there. It’s makes it easier to lookup and browse through.

  • Mr. I

    To-Do lists are great way to get organized.

    Recently, I started using them in my Web office Suite and they have indeed boosted my productivity.

    I do not list the stuff that is not supposed to be done, something I need to learn from you.

    Why don’t you try opengoo (opengoo.org). It’s free suite that I use and has To-Do lists plus a lot more. You can set recurring tasks(daily, weekly and monthly) and the left over tasks are automatically rolled over to next day. It will definitely be easier than notebook(and it’s environment friendly too! Saves Paper! 🙂 )

  • Tiffany

    I’ve recently gone back to using a cheapy paper planner with my to-do lists jotted on each day. Funny, how satisfying it is to check off the items on the list.

  • Samantha Milner

    My husband has always laughed at me for my lists. So now i do them on microsoft excel and then he doesnt know any different. Its also a great way of putting aside a set amount of time for each task without letting the day disappear by just chatting on social sites.

    kind regards

    sam
    X

  • Ching Ya

    I started to use a journal about my online activities since June. What I find useful about having it, not only for my to-do list, but the experience and how I feel about the day’s work and some personal thoughts. It helps me to de-clutter my thoughts and like Daniel suggested, I move the list to the next until it’s done.

    A good way to clear off tasks at hand. Just be careful not to get over-stressed for seeing it up there all the time. ^^

    @wchingya
    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • Steve

    I thought you were going to write about some great virtual assistant service you began to use. But I like your ideal of setting goals each day. I do the same in the morning but maybe I should switch to the night before.

  • Adam Baird

    I started using a white board that’s attached to the back of my desk a couple months ago. I always write down the next day’s goals in order of importance. You’re right…its huge for productivity.

    Also, congrats on 30k!

  • Adam Baird

    Also, nice phone! Circa 1986?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Adam, thansk, just saw 30k this morning too.

    No clue about the phone. Just to give you an idea, I have been using the same mobile phone for the past 4 years….

  • Blake @ Props Blog

    It is funny that you mentioned trying digital options, but the good old pen and paper works better. I’ve found the same thing to be true. I have tried using outlook, gmail, my blackberry, and even a desktop to-do list. In the end, good old pen and paper always helps me to be more productive.

    It is just tricky to get in the habit and stay in the habit of doing it daily. It’s all about making a routine just like you said.

  • Kevin Muldoon

    I use my notepad all the time, particularly when I’m away from the computer. I recently came back from holiday with 4 or 5 pages of ideas (it’s amazing how productive you can be when you get away from the pc).

    I use google docs a lot too though. I find it incredibly useful to jot down post ideas on that because it means I can access it anywhere.

  • Hal

    Simplicity is great. I like the idea of plain paper and pen. However, life is not that simple for me. This last year I tied going back to a paper calendar/to-do list. One that is thin enough for me to carry in my pocket is so worn it is nearly useless.

    Every tool for tracking the day has pros and cons. I haven’t found a really good solution, yet. I’m going to try a Blackberry; I used to use a PDA, but with the cell phone that’s one too many things to carry.

    If I was in front of the computer all day this would be easy. My wife, as most women I know, carries a purse, a fine place to put a big paper planner. This is not a solution for me. 🙂

    Maybe the best solution is to not have too many things to do. I won’t hold my breath till that happens.

  • NYC Vagabond

    This is precisely what I’ve been doing, and my experiences mirror yours. I’ve actually taken a slightly more extreme approach by doing almost all of my writing in notebooks. I also try to work in a different place each day, to cut down on the amount of interruptions I get from working on a hyper-connected computer. Even most of my blog posts are written out by hand. Little by little, computers – which were once quiet, zen-like environments where you could get things done – have become the noisiest, most distracting place of all.

  • Arun Basil Lal

    I was using paper and pencil all the time, but it was not working for me. I would keep the list with me, would forget about it when am online. At the end of the day most tasks would still be pending.

    Now am using tudumo, its an amazing to-do list maker, working for me.

    Everyone has their own was of doing things, I guess the ultimate GTD is when you find the best for you 🙂

  • BloggerDaily

    It’s an amazing thing to have a structured life. Well, we gonna lost if we don’t plan the tasks in manner.

  • Carrie

    i’m a big fan of to do lists. but in the interest of saving trees i now email myself my to do items (item in the subject line, any related notes in the body or leave the body empty). i keep my inbox cleared out so that anything that isn’t a to do is not in my inbox.

  • George

    I had the same problem with software until I tried voo2doo. It works really well for tracking my todo lists.

  • Steve Baik

    A primitive method, but definitely the most effective for me. It works for non-work related tasks as well.

    I also utilize my email to remind myself of things to do.

  • Bobbi

    It totally agree with you. No matter how many todo programs I try, the only one that works for me is one that I do with pen and paper. The way that I make my list uses a technique that I learned in kindergarten:
    1. Take a piece of plain white letter size paper – put the date on top.
    2. Fold your paper in half and then in half again (so there are four even sections).
    3. Write on the top of each section: Go, Do, Buy, Call (one on each section)
    4. As the day goes by or you think of something, add it to this list.
    5. As you do one of these things, put a line through it.
    6. At the end of the day, transfer the undone items to a new sheet for tomorrow.
    7. Clip the new sheet on top of the old sheet.
    8. Go back to step 1

  • ffoucaud

    Thank you for this method.
    Setting and writing objectives every day really enable to improve productivity.

  • Jayson

    It’s amazing how something so simple would help so well. A President of a company I worked for said once in a meeting, “I don’t know about all this technology shit, but if we didn’t have that computer could you go back to the days when we didn’t use them.” It was such a simple question most had no idea what to do without technology. Great Post I might really just have to go Ol’School on em with a notepad again…

  • Chester

    Old school but defintely worth a try. haha. Now I realized I’m not so organized. This is a wake up call man! I gotta be productive!

  • Lee Ka Hoong

    Seems that creating to-do list using old school method is working, at least there is no “Time Killer” when no internet in front of you. I’ve never done it before. Daniel, is this effective for people who is part time blogger? In fact, I have only about 3-5 hours or less online daily, I used to write a post, reply comment, reading other blogs, read email and etc. So I’m curious whether writing a to-do list works in my situation too.

    Anyway, I’m going to give it a try to see whether I can increase my productivity. 🙂

    Regards,
    Lee

  • Stephanie

    I definitely use a pen-and-paper “to-do” list. In fact, I carry my notepad around with me around all day long. It just works better for me than the digital alternatives that are currently available.

  • Grateful Al

    One of my favorite tools is the Mozilla plugin “Really Simple Sticky”.

    I have found in my research for productivity tools, including Mind Maps and other GTD tools, many seem so all-inclusive they become a distraction in their own right. I ended up spending a fair amount of time learning the tools; then more research to apply them the most efficiently. All-in-all, several became time-drains in themselves. I now use Linux and a neat package in KDE called ‘Basket Note Pad’.

    For me, the hierarchical tree format works the best and management is a breeze as its always at my fingertips. I just did not like the way mind maps would end up covering several screens and simple navigation became an issue. I understand it is also based on one’s perception of learning and thinking that will determine their preference; an interesting study of it’s own.

  • Liane YoungBlogger

    Doubling productivity means logging off from Facebook In my own opinion. lol

  • Melvin

    Wow..you mean you were really able to resist doing time-wasters such as watching on youtube?

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Mevil, I try to.

  • Surender Sharma

    This is common factor in every human being to wash out the brain soon.I can say it is disease(Funny) but your experience shows that the common habit can beat by using some methods and one of them is your mentioned method that is TO DO List.
    Do do list works like your personal secretory which handle your all the business tasks and meeting scheduling.
    I am really impressed with your post.I am going to follow your all the steps for managing my day and night blogging.

  • Jennifer Furrier

    It’s absolutely true, that keeping a to do list, in one place, (instead of the back of napkins and five legal pads), is one of the best things to increase productivity. Plus, it’s easier to focus when there aren’t all kinds of post-its and small pieces of paper getting lost on the disorganized desktop.
    Plus, it makes it easier to sleep, when I know that my list for the next day, already has listed, everything I need to get done.

  • Dave Doolin

    I love pencil and paper!

    I use a mixture of methods for maximum effectiveness.

  • Wayne Key

    The really tough thing about to-do lists and calendars is remembering to use the darn things.

    A few years ago I started using the Franklin-Covey planners and loved them. The trainer who introduced them to us during a week long management training program forced us to have the planner within arms reach ANY time we were not in our rooms. There was a $10 fine PER occurance for not having the planner handy and for not having the plan/to-do list updated… lol…

    It was a painful but pretty fast way to learn the habit.

  • Capt Elan

    Recently I have come upon one online tool, done as a to-do list, that is freely available and very much resembles the paper to-do lists. It even works in the same way.

    It has extremely simplified design and looks as though it cannot be simpler. The tool is available at http://nowdothis.com/ and the community behind it can be reached at http://nowdothis.tumblr.com/.

    Do you know any other to-do lists that are this elegant and yet powerful?

  • Supermarket Soap

    It’s funny, I use paper to do lists all the time, and I get far more done on the projects where I use the paper to do lists rather than the digital to do lists.

  • Boerne Search

    Yes, this is something I have done for years. I keep everything in one notebook for each year. I have all my notes, to do’s and goals listed in them. Sometimes I go back just to see what I was thinking or doing a year or two back. I catch myself laughing and some of the ideas i had. But this is a very good way of keeping things simple yet effective.

    Kane

  • Kim

    Pretty simple, yet helpful. I tried using a desktop app as well for my to-do list. Didn’t work. Maybe it’s better if I do it the conventional way as well. 🙂

  • Igor Kheifets-IgorHelpsYouSucceed

    Simple, yet very effective productivity tip. I’ve been using to do lists for over a year now, never let me done. Most of the time I complete everything on the list

    Igor

  • Extrema

    Deveria ter o tradutor para o Portugues (pt-Brasil).
    Mesmo assim fica meus PARABENS para o site.
    Obrigado

  • Norene

    I also use a paper and pencil list, but with a twist. I assign points to each task I need to do and each day I try to accumulate more points than the previous day. So, for instance, I am more likely to complete three 10 point tasks, than three 5 point tasks. It is highly motivating and it also helps to ensure that the most important tasks get done first, even if they are not the most ‘fun’ on the list. -Norene

  • cmdweb

    I couldn’t agree more. To-do lists only really work when they’re hand written. I use a pen, paper and a highlighter pen to cross out the ones I’ve finished. I get a sense of some progress when I see the page filling up with colour. It might be just a psychological boost, but every bit helps.
    I once worked with a colleague who started his list every day with:
    1. Make a list.

    As soon as he had finished his list (or the first pass at least), he could score No.1 off. Instant progress!!

  • Ricardo Bueno

    Totally with you on this one! Let’s just say I’ve grown to love legal pads (I buy a whole stack of ’em every time I go to Staples). It’s the best way to stay on top of that to do list (at least for me it is).

  • Jeff Bode

    There are tons of things you can do to become more productive, I’ve found that you should have 4 task to complete each day and use an accountability partner to email to let them know you completed your task each night!

  • diabetes man

    yech….you are very love your job, enjoy all your activity

  • IM Headlines

    Almost every successful marketer uses a to do list. In the past, I used to keep everything in my mind. No wonder why I used to have a lot of headaches.

    Nowadays I keep a notebook and I write down all of my tasks on it. And yes, I have increased my productivity aswell. 😉

  • Alvaris Falcon

    Strongly agreed, especially when there are tons of projects running on, and the deadline is near! 😀

  • Monevator

    The thing that’s made the biggest difference to my productivity in recent times is not to try to do too much.

    Before I’d have a list of things and I’d try to figure out what was important.

    Now I try to do one big, killer thing a day, and plan my calendar accordingly.

    Really works!

  • Jeff Sabo

    Daniel, you are right on with your approach! Sometimes going “old-school” can be one of the best ways to improve productivity. Taking time to use an older approach can freshen things up a bit and surprise you as to how well it works. I sometimes did this with study techniques in college and found that a new way to study helped me do better on my exams!

Comments are closed.